Poi­sonous Flora

Your child’s out­door nurs­ery, valu­ing work, her field of greens

Gulf & Main - - Gulf & Main - BY ANN MARIE O’PHEL AN

Home gar­dens are hot, in our yards, in con­tain­ers, even ver­ti­cally. It’s a great hobby that’s af­ford­able, but gar­den­ing is also a rich op­por­tu­nity to share with your kids, in­still­ing patience, self-re­liance, the hard lessons of work and rewards. With just a lit­tle rich soil, a few seeds or cut­tings, and a cou­ple of sim­ple tools, a small plot of land can be trans­formed into a mag­i­cal won­der­land for the lit­tle ones. From till­ing the soil, to plant­ing seeds, weed­ing, chas­ing off pests and varmints to har­vest­ing, gar­den­ing is an amaz­ing and ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for you and your lit­tle sprouts. “We grow beans, pep­pers and toma­toes, as well as col­or­ful flow­ers,” says Louis Tay­lor, a North Fort My­ers par­ent pot­ting things on the back pa­tio. “It’s fun for the kids.”

Thanks to the grow­ing in­ter­est in gar­den­ing, more pub­lic spa­ces ac­ces­si­ble to kids are open­ing. There’s the Teach­ing Gar­den, lo­cated at Cape Co­ral Hospi­tal, or the Chil­dren’s Learn­ing Gar­den at Lakes Re­gional Park in Fort My­ers, for ex­am­ple. And dozens of schools have small gar­dens, some dat­ing back decades.

Master gar­dener Rod Barkley is one of four such ex­perts at Cape Hospi­tal. The pur­pose of the Teach­ing Gar­den, which broke ground in 2014, is to help kids learn about healthy eat­ing and dig­ging the life­style, he says. Lo­cal schoolkids tour the gar­dens and plans to in­tro­duce gar­den­ing in class­rooms are be­ing con­sid­ered, he says. “We ini­tially planted the gar­den with the help of chil­dren and teach­ers from Caloosa Ele­men­tary, Caloosa Mid­dle School, the Cape Child De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter, and in con­junc­tion with the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion,” says Barkley.

Dur­ing the open­ing event, nine raised beds with things such as pep­pers, toma­toes, let­tuce and as­sorted herbs were planted, as well as or­na­men­tal plants—Mex­i­can heather, climb­ing aster, gold mound du­ranta and other non-edibles. Today, peren­nial edibles such as katuk, ba­nanas, gogi berries and coco plum are also in the gar­den, as well as the flow­er­ing plants, Barkley

A small plot of land can be trans­formed into a mag­i­cal won­der­land for the lit­tle ones.

Cape Hospi­tal’s Teach­ing Gar­den helps kids learn about healthy eat­ing and dig­ging the life­style.

says. “Our goal is to even­tu­ally trans­form the en­tire gar­den into a ‘Food For­est,’ which is a nat­u­rally ap­pear­ing gar­den that has sev­eral lay­ers of pro­duc­tive, food-pro­duc­ing plants which are all grown so that they co­op­er­ate with each other and each plant serves sev­eral func­tions,” he adds.

Be­cause it’s mostly sunny and we’re sub­trop­i­cal, South­west Florid­i­ans en­joy year-round grow­ing. And as more of us move here, gar­den­ing is only go­ing to in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity. In fact, the Na­tional Gar­den­ing As­so­ci­a­tion re­ported in 2014 that 33 per­cent of house­holds grew food at home or in a com­mu­nity gar­den. Beans, egg­plant, okra, sweet pota­toes, wa­ter­melon, pep­pers and peas, each are good choices for plant­ing. The trick in mak­ing that gar­den pop is in keep­ing kids in­ter­ested, let­ting them help pick out what will be planted, to as­sist in till­ing, weed­ing, wa­ter­ing and har­vest­ing.

Adding whimsy to a gar­den―pin­wheels, per­son­al­ized gar­den signs, hand-drawn mark­ers, hand-painted rocks and home­made scare­crows―adds to the fun. Old toys are also helpful in re­cy­cling, buck­ets into planters, old wag­ons into gar­den beds, for ex­am­ple.

The Chil­dren’s Learn­ing Gar­den in Fort My­ers at Lakes Re­gional Park, cre­ated with the assistance of the Lakes Park En­rich­ment Foun­da­tion, of­fers four gar­den rooms―the Al­pha­bet Herb Gar­den, Pol­li­na­tion Sta­tion, The Stumm­pery (story-time gar­den) and Light En­ergy from the Sun―each el­e­vated, mak­ing it eas­ier for the lit­tle ones to see and watch. Each gar­den room is themed to herbs or pol­li­nat­ing plants and flow­ers. Paved path­ways help vis­i­tors make their way from one sta­tion to an­other.

Gar­den­ing with chil­dren is great for many rea­sons, as they learn a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, team­work, learn­ing where food orig­i­nates and en­joy­ing the great out­doors, ex­perts tell us.

A side ben­e­fit for par­ents is that gar­den­ing shaves a lit­tle off the food bill. A healthy gar­den, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Gar­den­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, yields about a half pound of pro­duce per square foot per grow­ing sea­son, sav­ing cash and plac­ing clean, nour­ish­ing meals on your child’s plate. And what could be any bet­ter?

Herbs (left) gen­er­ally grow well, can be added to fa­vorite dishes such as pasta. El­e­vated plant­ing beds (cen­ter) make it eas­ier for the lit­tles to reach, and toys (right) make ex­cel­lent planters. Cape Co­ral Hospi­tal’s gar­den project (be­low) has fruits and veg­eta­bles, flow­ers and other fun stuff that kids dig.

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